November 1, 2019 Highly Suspect – MCID (Album Review)
Originating in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Highly Suspect made their entrance onto the alternative music scene with the release of their debut album, Mister Asylum, in 2015. The breakout hit from that album, “Lydia” made its way onto radio airwaves and streaming playlists everywhere at the time and even earned a nomination for “Best Rock Song” at the 59th annual Grammys.
Consisting of Johnny Stevens aka Terrible Johnny (lead vocals, guitar, synthesizer, piano), Ryan Meyer (drums, vocals), Rich Meyer (bass, vocals), Matt Kofos (guitar, synthesizer, vocals), the band has since released two more albums, the most recent of which being MCID, out on Friday, November 1st, 2019 through Atlantic Records. This latest chapter in the Highly Suspect story is the highly anticipated follow up to their 2016 sophomore effort, The Boy Who Died Wolf, which gave the world the infectious “My Name is Human.” Now, the band is back with more complex storytelling, hot takes on the political climate, and personal stories of tragedy and strife.
Right off the rip, “Fly” exposes the listener to the inner dialog and emotional honesty of Vocalist Johnny Stevens. This is his soliloquy about the struggles he has faced in his fights against mental illness and chemical dependency. There are some hard truths here about the way the instabilities in our lives affect our relationships with others, even those who should be closest to us. Here Stevens begins this sonic journey by baring his scars and insecurities. The vulnerability here is refreshing from the usual swagger or angsty resentment found in so many other modern albums. It is comforting to see musicians let their guard down and be real about the kinds of issues that also affect their audience. It makes them relatable and accessible, and in this case, makes the transition into the rest of the album that much easier because it sets the stage for what is to come. MCID then becomes an immersive experience and not just a case study to be observed.
Moving right along, next comes “16” – the first single released off the album and it quickly shot up the charts to number one. Devoid of guitar, this choral hymn of love found and lost features and almost ecclesiastical ambiance that is painfully conflicted by the story being told within. The orchestral arrangement here is sweeping and crisp in an almost chilling way.
Then there is “Upperdrugs,” which has Stevens tapping into an area of melodic choral affectation that brings to mind early Soundgarden/Chris Cornell vibes. It is unexpectedly morose and yet swelling in the bridge with soulful licks and percussion that crawls into your ears and lives in your chest. The subject matter tackling chemical dependency is another fascinating layer to this upsweeping orchestration. “Tokyo Ghoul” features guest vocals from rapper Young Thug and while the combination may seem unexpected to the unknowing, Thug’s addition to the song gives it a vibe that is bouncy and full of swagger that meshes really well with Stevens’ natural groove and, at times, almost Hip Hop vibe that he brings into most of his work organically.
Later on, “SOS” has the band borrowing the talents of Gojira to add some grind at the beginning of the song which then turns into the utilization of their impressive string work later on. Metal fans may find some things to love here with the dynamics at play on this track and the sharp outro of it, but overall it feels a bit out of place composition-wise amongst the rest of the album. Following “SOS” is “@tddybear” which features Nothing But Thieves. This song almost has an ’80s ballad vibe that is chill, crisp, but catchy. The song moves along surprisingly quickly and smoothly, but as with many other songs on the album, just as you are beginning to get into it, the lyrics begin to hit home. Here we have the story of an online friendship/relationship in which one party (as sung by Stevens) seems to be depressed and grieving looking for attention and affect, but upon seeming to find none takes drastic measures (or so we are left to assume).
One thing Highly Suspect has going for them is that the songs on this album are mostly catchy and infectious. They move along at an enthusiastic pace that glides from one song to the next with little interruption or displacement. MCID is a complex composition of political, personal, and social outrage. It is vocalist Johnny Steven’s message to the work of the things he had seen, done, or experienced. It speaks to the inner turmoil that we can all feel in the delicate and complicated moments of our lives.
Whether that moment is the loss of a loved one, the loss of trust, the wish to reconnect, or a triumph over personal adversity or addiction, there is something here for you. MCID is a compilation of expression and emotions set to music that has a dark soul that calls out to the listener more than it is a piece of entertainment. There is anguish, sorrow, pain, regret, and determination here that is surprisingly gripping. The raw honesty from the very beginning is cutting and unexpected, but pleasantly refreshing and relatable. So, for that Cryptic Rock gives MCID 4.5 out of 5 stars.